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'Oriental' is Passe

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Food in History

Winter Volume: 2002 Issue: 9(4) page(s): 26

The term 'Oriental' can be considered a pejorative. The word 'Orient' fares no better. Eliminate both and be both modern and polite by forgetting these 'O' words. People from that part of the world are 'Asians,' the continent they hail from has but one name, and that is 'Asia.'

This came to mind when locating an older book at my niece’s home. It was put together by the Editors of Consumer's Guide, with the help of others. This book reminds of a leaky boat; a boat that needs to be sunk not salvaged. Actually, a good number of its recipes should be torpedoed as they deserve a trip to the bottom of the ocean. The book under discussion is called Favorite Oriental Brand Name Recipes. Both title and reasons for highlighting the recipes these editors include speak to their lack of understanding about things Asian.

So why call attention to it? One reason is to be sure that you, our readers, balk when seeing things of this ilk. Another is so that more people will be appalled by it. If there is a reason for this book, it is to tout the products of manufacturers. People should not pay for that.

What this book does is belittled the taste of foods from this part of the world. Why would they publish and sell a book with a recipe for Crepe Suzette using ginger ale and canned eggs? Or include one for Baked Alaska using ice cream and dog biscuits? This book belittles anyone’s favorite foods. And, it makes fun of understandings about what Asian foods taste like. It is hard to believe that at the time of its publication, in 1985, people willingly bought this book. Maybe that is why my niece found it on a remainder table. Purchasing a book of this kind is in agreement with a statement in it that says the recipes are a way to serve 'delectable Oriental meals at home.' They are not!

Frankly, when I came upon this book for the first time many years earlier, I cried. Did Beekman House, a New York City publisher and Publications International, then of Skokie IL, who also contributed to its distribution and believe Americans so calloused and unsophisticated? Did they think it is OK to make fun of people from Asia? How fast these very manufacturers whose recipes are included forgot about the experiences of thousands of GI's who served in Asia during World War II and learned to love Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian foods.

For a long time, I boycotted products from the companies who agreed to allow recipes for their products to be printed in this volume. I also did not use other foods of the hundred plus manufacturers whose products are touted in the book. To this day, I find myself avoiding them whenever I can. I continue to ask myself, why did they even publish this type of recipe for their products in this manner? Did they need to make bucks from what they thought were their unsophisticated clientele? How could they think their customers would really believe these very recipes would be anyone's favorite? Did the publishers of this book really think this a marvelous collection or do they have no sense of taste? Had they not experienced real ethnic foods from this part of the world? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding: Shame on them all.

Was my strong reaction then a personal distaste for dishes such as Tuna Noodle Casserole? Did that impact my tearful negative reaction? There really is nothing to love and much to be angry about in books such as this one. No one should consider these recipes representative or favorites, Asian or otherwise. Everyone should consider this a subtle form of inconsideration and intolerance.

Distaste comes in an item titled: Chinese Tuna made with a can of chop suey vegetables, another of tuna, and a third of water chestnuts along with ground ginger, lemon juice, and soy sauce. How can anyone report this texture and taste a favorite? There are many other losers in the nine chapters. These recipes explain how far off the mark the manufacturers and the publishers are. Try to visualize Wheat Germ Egg Roll as an appetizer. Think of twelve egg roll skins filled with a cup of chopped bean sprouts and three-quarters of a cup of regular wheat germ along with half-cup each of grated carrots, water chestnuts, scallions, and some seasonings. If this an Asian favorite, they have to be kidding! It is certainly not a favorite of anyone we know.

In the chapter on soups, my mouth puckers just thinking about tasting six chicken-flavored bouillon cubes, MSG optional, to make their recipe for Egg Drop Soup. In the salad chapter, whose favorite is Creamy Rice Salad with a one-pound can of mandarin orange segments, lots of celery and peppers, and three-quarters of a cup of sour cream. Can not imagine an Asian or anyone else finding this a favorite. Their Tuna Salad with Tuna Helper Mix probably faces similar homelessness.

The Chinese Pepper Steak can win a 'what not to make' contest with its three-quarters of a cup of coke (do they mean Coca-cola). Opting for second place might be the Chop Suey recipe made with two and a half cups of crushed saltine crackers. California Fried Rice crosses no ocean and might sink with its overload of raisons. Sweet and Sour Potato Medley’s package of Au Gratin potatoes mixed with a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup deserves more than a torpedo.

To end a meal from this mess of consumer product recipes, serving a Ginger Ale Sherbet made with milk and corn syrup gets a nod and appreciation as an item to avoid. Likewise for the more than one hundred companies and organizations whose addresses are listed in this book. No need to thank them for use of their recipes and artwork. Better to advise them and others that the terms 'Orient' and 'Oriental' are words of the past. So should everyone be who belittles Chinese and other Asian foods, and the foods of any other group. Tsk! Tsk!

For those who want a photocopy of the list of manufacturers listed in this book, send a stamped addresses envelope to the editor. It will be sent post haste for you to take whatever action you deem appropriate.

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